The Billion-Dollar Levee Question | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The Billion-Dollar Levee Question

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Downtown Jackson Partners President Ben Allen said Jackson has advantages over the suburbs, despite the city's challenges.

Archive of JFP Lakes/Levee Coverage

Downtown Jackson Partners President Ben Allen came out last week as an avid opponent of a levee expansion for Jackson, declaring that local taxpayers will not pay for it.

"This local share would have to be raised with taxes in Hinds and Rankin counties. A voter referendum would be needed for an increase in property taxes (to fund the levees), a legislatively approved sales-tax increase vote, or some other citizen-approved tax increase, and 60 percent of the voters in both counties would be necessary for approval," Allen wrote on the Downtown Jackson Partners Web site last week. "From Puckett to Pisgah, Edwards to Flora, Jackson to Pearl and on," (the tax increase would need) 60 percent approval. ... This will never happen."

Allen is a long-time fan of a Two Lakes plan proposed years ago by Jackson oil man John McGowan, arguing that the lakes plan (which has changed multiple times) is more friendly to development than the levee plan. Local voters, he said, will need incentives to finance any flood-control plan—and levees don't have the development components needed to convince residents to pay for flood control.

A Billion-Dollar Lakes Plan?

In 1979, heavy rainfall north of the city created a swell of rainwater that filled the Pearl River, sending a glut of water to Hinds and Rankin counties. The resulting flooding sauntered around the inadequate levee system and caught the city completely off guard, inundating sections of the downtown area and northern portions of the city, as well as spots in Flowood—doing more than $200 million worth of damage.

The federal government, through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is offering a maximum match of $133 million for the expansion of the incomplete levee system currently girding portions of Hinds and Rankin counties. The only levee plan available so far dates back to 1996 when the emphasis shifted to Two Lakes.

"This (levee plan) could mean a 10- to 15-mill increase for all property owners (estimated 12 to 18 percent)," wrote Allen, whose property borders the river's flood zone and stands to increase in value from a lake development like that proposed by McGowan.

The lake plan is as cost-prohibitive as the levee plan, however, although Two Lakes supporters will not say that out loud. McGowan projects a $400 million price tag for his plan; assuming the federal government coughs up its $133 million earmark for the lake plan—despite the Corps' refusal to endorse any lake plan due to Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

The resulting deficit, after an additional $50 million gift from the state in the form of in-lieu payments and fiscal incentives, appears to be $235 million that taxpayers would need to cover—if the plan could somehow get around federal law.

Just like for a Corps-approved levee plan, property owners would have to finance the cost of Two Lakes through a general obligation bond and property tax hikes. However, a theoretical 5 percent TIF bond on the $235 million shortfall of the McGowan plan adds up to more than $100 million in interest over the 15-year life of the loan, equaling to a 5.8 mill increase to home-owners.

These numbers only reflect the property-tax increases necessary to handle estimated interest on a TIF loan for the lake project. Property owners might expect to pay about $22 million annually to pay down the principal, a nearly 13 mill increase (roughly $1,300 on a $100,000 home), in addition to expensive litigation costs that would result from environmental lawsuits.

The Corps warns that the McGowan plan costs would easily pass $1 billion because McGowan's plan does not include key environmental mitigation required 
by federal law, such as erosion walls to keep any islands within the lake from washing away.

A Dated Levee Plan

Allen argues on the DJP blog that the levee plan is an outdated relic of the 1990s. Two Lakes supporters, however, did not want other plans studied—they only wanted a comparison between the levee plan the Corps developed in the early 1990s and their preferred plan.

In fact, former U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering—a Republican Two Lakes supporters relied on to get Washington support for their plan—specifically instructed the Corps to study only the Two Lakes plan and the 1996 levee plan.

"There has been no new flood control thinking tolerated for over a decade," environmental engineer Pleasant McNeel, head of the Pearl River Basin Coalition, said Tuesday, adding that the results of the 2007 charrette featuring a Two Lakes-skeptical Andre Duany has not been released to the public.

This comparison against an outdated 1996 levee plan, currently the rage among Two Lakes backers, likely made McGowan's plan look better, even with its drawbacks and high costs.

"It is likely true that the Corps levee plan has its share of flaws. The levee plan was conceived in the early 1990s, and with all the emphasis placed on studying the Two Lakes plan, has remained static since 1996," McNeel said.

Allen echoes McGowan's warning that the old plan does not include additional local charges with which the city of Jackson will have to contend. The Corps, he says, estimates the total cost of the levees to be about $206 million, but does not include the price of installing $90 million worth of backwater pumps to empty two Jackson creeks over the levee floodgates in the event of a heavy local rainstorm.

The Corps will install the floodgates to prevent the rising river from sending downtown creeks over their banks, but pumps may prove necessary in the event of local rains corresponding with a heavy wash of floodwater from up north similar to the 1970 spring flood. Without the pumps, local rainwater filling the creeks during a 1979-style flood would beat hopelessly against the closed floodgates and have nowhere to go except over creek banks.

The Corps told members of the Rankin-Hinds Pearl Flood and Drainage Control District Levee Board last year that it found the likelihood of corresponding local rains in the event of a 1979 flood extremely unlikely. The city, for example, saw very little rain during the worst of the 1979 flood, the Corps said. Nevertheless, it rated the original levee plan's effectiveness at 79 percent due to the possibility.

Allen, who did not return calls for this story, said the city will have to eventually finance the pumps, however, and would have to cover a total share of about $162 million for the project. He says that the old levee plan would spell trouble for some Jackson businesses.

"A 100-yard swath on each side of all of the levees will be scorched earth, forever, to assist water flow in the flooded area. Adding this to the width of the levees will equate into a 300-yard-wide scorched earth area throughout the entire levee system," Allen wrote on the DJP blog, adding, "[T]here will be no development within the confines of the proposed Pearl River levees, unless one wishes to invest with cash. No bank will loan money in an area prone to flooding."

Allen also pointed out that none of the target area includes Rankin County.

Jackson insurance agent Hank Aiken said his business sits inside Allen's "scorched earth" section, along with Penn's Fish House and other businesses.

"I would be on the wrong side of the levees, so the city would be forced to buy me out, or eminent domain me out and bulldoze my office building, and probably pay me a fraction of what it's worth," Aiken said.

Aiken said his building, which has been in existence since 1978 and took three feet of water in the 1979 flood, would be in a much better position under the McGowan plan: "If McGowan's plan was in place, I would have lakefront property here, but if we get levees, I'd have to move. You can see why I'm a fan of the lake plan."

Under McGowan's plan, recalcitrant property owners would have to give up their property under eminent domain as well.

McNeel said that the city needs to get away from thinking that the only options are McGowan's Two Lakes plan or the 1996 version of the levee plan.

"What needs to be done now is what should have been done in 1996: engage the Corps and the public to ensure a comprehensive design that meets the needs of the Metro Area. I am sure there are incremental improvements that can be made to the plan along the way, and there is a unique opportunity to take advantage of the recreation resources available along the Pearl."

Not Just About Jackson

Local mayors comprise the majority of the levee board, and all fear backing a plan carrying a mill increase of more than 3 percent, making both the lake and levee plans tough choices. The board voted last month to endorse the levee plan over the lake plan, with two votes against the endorsements from Jackson businessmen Socrates Garrett and Leland Speed. Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. voted with majority members of the board.

The Corps already rejected a lakes plan, due to environmental factors surrounding the inundation of wetland territory that houses endangered species of fish and turtles. The Corps also rejected a modest one-lake plan that advocates say had less of an impact on the local wildlife.

But residents outside Jackson are prepped to battle any lake plan, including Monticello Mayor Dave Nichols.

"I'm not trying to make enemies. I'm only looking out for my city," Nichols said. "The study says this: The way the reservoir is currently operated, with Two Lakes, Monticello and Marion County could receive up to two more inches of water in an Easter flood like the 1979 event. That's two more inches that we don't need. The reservoir operators aren't changing the way they operate, so I have to stand against this. If the reservoir folks turn around and say they'll operate the way McGowan wants them to, then I'll be all for it."

McGowan's plan relies on the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District altering its operating model for the Spillway dam from a structure intended to provide drinking water to a structure for providing flood control. The district holds a contract to deliver the necessary water over the dam for processing at the Curtis water treatment plant, and the Savannah Street waste water-treatment plant in Jackson. The contract does not include altering the volume of flow to protect the territory south of the dam from flooding.

Benny French, general manager of the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, said the district had to work within tight rules, adding that the original design of the Spillway did not include flood control.

Rep. Bill Denny, R-Jackson, said he doubted the Legislature would get behind state financing of a levee plan, recalling a failed attempt to expand the Jackson levees in the 1990s. He said the levees plan is likely doomed because city residents may not agree to accept the property tax hike.

If local residents don't accept the plan, their priority may be running against the national attitude toward levees that has strengthened since Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans' weak levees in 2005. A study for the non-partisan, grassroots organization Levees.org by geographer Ezra Boyd concludes that levees more than pay for themselves when their cost is compared to the investment they defend. The report concludes that even though counties containing levees account for only 28 percent of the nation's counties, they contain 55 percent of the nation's population and more than 156 million people.

"People tend to build their homes near water," said Levees.org founder Sandy Rosenthal of New Orleans. "Rivers and lakes can supply a large municipal water supply, so people gravitate to these areas. Income is higher and poverty is lower where levees exist, so levees more than make up for their cost, considering the amount of money often invested in the communities they protect."

Denny said as much last year, complaining that his 1995 push for a bill completing the levees in the highly populated Jackson area was overrun by legislators living in sparsely populated areas.

"I said time and time again to opponents trying to kill my effort that 'you and your cow pastures are ignoring one of the most densely populated parts of the state,' and it just didn't seem to matter to them," Denny said.

Rosenthal argues that people tend to appreciate their levees because a huge portion of the population stands to gain from it. Even the people of New Orleans knew the value of levees prior to Katrina, despite Corps spokespeople there claiming immediately after the 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastation that they did not strengthen levees because of a lack of local match funding and public support.

"The idea that the levees in New Orleans failed because local residents didn't support the Corps' effort to upgrade the levees is just a story that Corps spokespersons told after the levees failed. No one checked the Corps' account to find out if there was any truth to it. There's nothing to back up that story," Rosenthal said. "The Corps never retracted their stories, even though they have been refuted by water resources planning and policy experts Douglas Woolley and Leonard Shabman."

Two years ago District Judge Stanwood Duval ruled out any accountability from the local population after finding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the federal government responsible for the flooding destruction in New Orleans during Katrina—because the Corps there did not move to strengthen the levees. But Duval had to dismiss the case due to the financial liability protection afforded the Corps by the Flood Control Act of 1928. Duval ruled against the Corps again last year, deciding that "... the Corps' lassitude and failure to fulfill its duties resulted in a catastrophic loss of human life and property in unprecedented proportions... ."

As New Orleans continues to struggle with Katrina's remnants and resulting accountability issues, Jackson is gearing up for its own Katrina, Aiken says: "Something still needs to be done, but all we're getting is a lot of talk—years and years of talk."

Previous Comments

ID
154813
Comment
Charles Hayes; What exactly is the problem here. All the major cities in surrounding states have river walks as part of a flood control plan. So what is the problem and where is common sense? As a matter of fact how about some bail out money before we have to bail out water again?
Author
chayes69
Date
2010-01-06T13:37:47-06:00
ID
154819
Comment
"Other cities have riverwalks..." arguments don't really make any sense. So? We have rare urban wetlands, why not keep them, along with the endangered species that call it home? I don't think we should focus on greenfield development when we have so many brownfield sites that could be developed.
Author
jrt
Date
2010-01-06T14:15:52-06:00
ID
154824
Comment
Adam, Great article. I am really impressed regarding your ability to bring new technical, business, and experienced "outside our area" experts and resources into the conversation with each successive article you craft. I always go to the links you include and I learn so much. Keep up the good work! Chayes69, As usual there are winners and losers in any public works project, large or small. The problem in this case is the vocal and financed losers in ths levee plan are the same vocal and financed winners in the lakes plan. The challenge is to get the financiers of both plans (the taxpayer) more vocal and financed.
Author
FrankMickens
Date
2010-01-06T14:31:20-06:00
ID
154825
Comment
A river walk makes allot of sense... On Town Creek.
Author
pjiv
Date
2010-01-06T14:41:34-06:00
ID
154827
Comment
"Other cities have riverwalks..." arguments don't really make any sense" Makes alot of sense to the citzens and tourists of other cities that are enjoying them. But sorry, I ommited that the river walk comment was associated as a Town Creek development an intregal part of the flood plan
Author
chayes69
Date
2010-01-06T14:51:28-06:00
ID
154831
Comment
For clarification ~ a river walk on Town Creek can exist alongside a levee plan. The Town Creek development can stand alone without Two Lakes. We should definitely develop Town Creek and have some forums between the public and the Corp to develop an updated levee plan that suits the needs of our Metro Area including enhanced public recreational space attractive to young professionals. Mississippi is known for its outdoors recreation and Jackson can be a very unique and attractive city in enhancing the green space between Commerce Street/Coliseum and Pearl even as far as connecting it with Trustmark Park. People generally fish, hike, jog and kayak at the Pearl through Jackson even now...just imagine if the city made it accessible and it didn't feel like trespassing. Also - the idea that levees equal 300 feet of scorched Earth is a very backward thinking assumption. There are plenty of ways for Jackson to work with the Corp to ensure a levee system that lifts Jackson into the 21st century as far as what it offers to its citizens. Jackson needs to hire a developer to work with to ensure a smooth relationship between the interests of the city and the Corp as we develop a levee flood control plan.
Author
daniel johnson
Date
2010-01-06T15:23:25-06:00
ID
154835
Comment
You place a lot of faith in the Corps.
Author
QB
Date
2010-01-06T16:16:42-06:00
ID
154841
Comment
QB, there is no choice but to work with the Corps -- or lose the federal dollars. It's time to start building a better relationship with the Corps. Mayor Johnson just left here after an almost two-hour editorial board meeting (thanks, mayor!). He had very informative comments on the whole dilemma of levees v. lakes, and specifically how opponents of levees are downplaying the real cost of the Two Lakes plan. We will be sharing those comments soon. He is very informed on these issues. daniel, must of the info out there about the 1996 levee plan does seem to be backward, or at least extremely dated. I have to assume that anyone who is serious about flood control and economic-development in Jackson will seek out the most up-to-date information available on levee possibilities and not just hawk dated information. (Looking at you, QB and other Two Lakes supporters.)
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-06T16:58:09-06:00
ID
154852
Comment
I think if you checked closer, most if not all those other riverwalks were developed long ago and have been renovated and rehabed into their present state or they were simply glorified ditches (Town Creek) not large expanses of valuable wetlands (Pearl River). I believe "scorched earth" comments are more PR thinking than backward thinking. And please, would someone tell us all that was decided by the charrette. What's the big secret..hmmmmm???
Author
prentiss reeves
Date
2010-01-06T18:20:57-06:00
ID
154853
Comment
Good point, Prentiss. The Lakes folks do have a language all their own. And right now that language is designed to just try to get support for their plan, which is off the table. That's sad: It is time for all forward-thinking Jacksonians to get behind the kinds of discussions and planning that daniel, pj and others (including Mayor Johnson) are suggesting, and stop all the damn scare rhetoric. It's just tired at this point. Also, the other local media outlets needs to get their thumb out of the you-know-where and do real reporting on this. It's one thing for biased bloggers to tell just the part that they believe--that's typical--but the Northside Sun newspaper has allowed itself to become the mouthpiece for McGowan on this -- and simply refuses to report how much that plan would cost, should it even be deemed not to be in violation of federal regulations. They also need to learn to say the words "eminent domain" for the lakes project. It's fine to support it, but for God's sake, tell the whole story instead of just playing PR agency. It's horrifying "journalism." And it's not like their readers wouldn't figure out they were lied to (by omission at least) once the government started taking the land and trying to raise their taxes. How is it possible to be that shortsighted?!? As for the charrette, I meant to ask the mayor about that today. This is another transparency issue: If one red cent from taxpayers went into that charrette, they need to release the report post-haste. We'll see what we can get done on that asap. Been meaning to.
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-06T18:25:33-06:00
ID
154856
Comment
Oh, and just to make it clear for the folks repeating the "why trust the Corps" sound bite incessantly, the Corps screwed New Orleans by not moving to strengthen the levees before a major flood hit. Frankly, they have let it draw out way too long here, and I believe quite strongly that one reason they are busting up the Two Lakes illusion now is because they got blamed for killing people in New Orleans because they didn't force levee improvements and let the whole thing languish. And, I would guess, because there is a new presidential administration that is not going to allow some earmark that tries to buy its way around environmental mitigation. The writing is on that wall.
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-06T18:46:49-06:00
ID
154860
Comment
Just to be clear prentiss, i don't think any one has discussed turning the Pearl into a river walk...just Town Creek (which is presently a literal ditch). and yes, the only levee plans available are the 1996 version because the politically connected supporters of Twin Lakes refused to let any study be done on plans other than their own and the 1996 levee plans. We are 13 years behind thoughtful development of our flood plain thanks to the "can win" attitude on the Lakes side. As for "trusting" the Corps...while i don't totally agree with your paranoia, i did suggest earlier in this thread that Jackson hire a developer with history guiding these projects to mediate between the City and the Corp. Hiring a developer would cost a fraction of what the taxpayer has paid to have Twin Lakes studied...twice.
Author
daniel johnson
Date
2010-01-06T23:05:33-06:00
ID
154862
Comment
Did'nt mean to refer to you DJ about the riverwalk. Iam more likely to agree abt. Town Creek than the Pearl River. But, Many supporters of the lakes do envision a riverwalk along the Pearl and that was what I was trying to address
Author
prentiss reeves
Date
2010-01-07T07:33:36-06:00
ID
154865
Comment
I was wondering when someone was going to point out the issues with both plans. Nice to finally see that out there.
Author
Ironghost
Date
2010-01-07T08:29:29-06:00
ID
154869
Comment
BTW, I just saw that Ben Allen posted this on the DJP blog: PS: A local outlet reported that I had property along the proposed "Two Lakes" project. It was inferred that this was "clouding" my judgement on this issue. I do not. I am not sure why they would say this, as I am reasonably sure this has been discussed ad nauseum with all responsible. We did not imply that having property next to the the flood zone--which is what is in this story; not along "Two Lakes"—"clouds" Mr. Allen's judgment in any way. We are not revealing this promixity issue for any reason other than you're supposed to -- he has positioned publicly himself as a major proponent of Two Lakes now who is fighting levees. We are also working on a project to figure out who all owns property that would be affected in some way, either by eminent domain or by benefitting the most from development. There is no shame in any of that; it just needs to be part of the discussion. And Adam has tried to talk to Ben for this story and about his posts on the DJP site against the levees, as well as his property. We're hoping he will return Adam's calls today for a follow-up.
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-07T09:25:05-06:00
ID
154870
Comment
I'm also curious to know what he means by "flood control lakes" that can be privately funded; is he talking about McGowan's plan or something else here? Hopefully, tomorrow I will be able to post on the myriad of ways to privately finance the funding of "Flood Control Lakes" regarding the Pearl River. Friday latest.....promise. The methodology will be like fingerprints, with regards to similar projects. They can be similar, but never the same. The methodology is quite complicted, but quite simple, when you get over it and look down. Also, private funding isn't going to get around the environmental mitigation issues--unless they raise more than a billion dollars. I do hope that Ben spends as much time on helping people come together to figure out how to make levees (hopefully combined with Town Creek riverwalk/recreation) work in a smart economic-development fashion, as that is clearly what the future holds. It really makes no sense to put all the eggs in the McGowan basket at this point from an economic-development standpoint. That's just a waste of more time, and starts to get us into the dilemma New Orleans faced when the Corps didn't move on strengthening those levees fast enough -- fiddling while Rome prepared to flood. But I know Ben has the best interests of Jackson at heart, so I feel sure he won't only rally for a lakes plan at this point.
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-07T09:33:38-06:00
ID
154875
Comment
What I don't understand is why is it necessary to alter one of the real gems that Jackson has in the area between the Natural Science Museum and Mayes Lakes when we have so much other area in need of improvement. Apart from the fact the McGowan owns the land at the end of Meadowbrook, is there a compelling engineering reason why any such development would need to be there as opposed to further south, near the end of Jefferson Street? The Mayes Lake area is such a neat place in the middle of our city, and I'm not sure most people are aware of what it offers the residents of Jackson.
Author
ksb
Date
2010-01-07T10:33:22-06:00
ID
154891
Comment
ksb ~ you are definitely on point. The Downtown Pearl is certainly a feature that helps Jackson stick out for many young professionals. The possibility of living in an urban district just minutes from cypress trees and sandbars is the type of combination innovative businesses are looking for. There is some restoration that needs to occur along the Pearl and it could certainly use access points, and large gathering/festival areas. There is a group of recreational kayakers/canoers who have been working on a GPS brochure featuring points of interest along the Pearl which will be pretty neat. Mayes Lake is an amazing local gem as well. Sometimes i think the same political forces pushing Two Lakes have had some role in subduing interest in Mayes Lake insofar as not allowing concerted efforts to promote and improve the park. It is an amazing local amnemity. There is a local Bluegrass/Old Time Music festival that goes on there every April called Pickin' and Paddlin' you should check out. It would have certainly been sad if Two Lakes had gotten their way and flooded this area.
Author
daniel johnson
Date
2010-01-07T13:56:59-06:00
ID
154900
Comment
It looks like the levee plan will be enacted so it's time to look at the plan. I think we can throw out the $200 million figure the corps had used since it's based on a 10+- year old study, and they have already said that they will need to perform another $1 million study that will take two years to complete. Ten years ago, the King Edward was estimated at $35 million, and it was completed at well over $80 million. From earlier JFP articles, the corps has stated that any pedestrian amenities will only come from local funding so I'm inclined to think the levees will be no frills and extremely basic. Since the levees do not protect Downtown in a great flood (unless the Corps revises the scope of their plan), some sort of system will have to be implemented to protect the $600+ million of development. Also, the corps has said the levee plan would have less environmental issues to contend with than the Lakes plan, but it's not a sure thing that the levee plan will not be taken to court. Lastly, does anyone know where Mayor Nichols is on his lake plan for Monticello? I haven't heard anything since last year.
Author
maybob95
Date
2010-01-07T21:32:45-06:00
ID
154906
Comment
We need to be sure and engage the Corp in constructive ways through this process. We have got to turn on a dime in our relationship with them. The past 14 years of trying to force the Corp to support the Two Lakes plan has seriously strained our relationships and i believe made them less flexible in response to our city. San Antonio is wrapping up a major 10 year restoration and community improvement of the stretch of river that not only includes their river walk, but also a few miles of river on either side of it. They hired a developer to bring facilitate community input into a single plan and then worked with the Corp on behalf of the city to achieve the best possible outcomes. Based on the San Antonio experience, i do not believe that the Corp is inflexible on inclusion of local amenities. i think they have partly been reacting to the players they have been dealing with on the Levee Board who were continually insisting on Two Lakes. We need to hire a developer to serve a similar role here in Jackson. It would cost far less than what we have been willing to spend to study Two Lakes into the ground. i'm not sure if you are using some technical definition for "great flood", but the levees would protect against a repeat of the last great flood on Easter 1979...they would be pretty much what we need or at least a HUGE step in the right direction. Having been in contact with many of the entities who would have brought law suits against Two Lakes, i can say that all of them have generally expressed no opposition to the levee plan. Technically, Mayor Nichols is planning an Ox Bow project in Monticello where you would have a U-shaped canal cut off the Pearl. It would not exactly resemble a lake. This plan is actually more in line with how the river walk in San Antonio is designed insofar as how it branches off and meets back up with the river. i have not heard anything recently either.
Author
daniel johnson
Date
2010-01-08T09:06:26-06:00
ID
154909
Comment
We need to be sure and engage the Corp in constructive ways through this process. We have got to turn on a dime in our relationship with them. The past 14 years of trying to force the Corp to support the Two Lakes plan has seriously strained our relationships and i believe made them less flexible in response to our city. I so agree, daniel. If anything is clear from reconstructing the history of this mess, it is that alienating the Corps seemed to be part of the process -- which makes no real sense, unless it was just a conservative, anti-fed thing. Fortunately, Mayor Johnson is fully on board with the idea of making up lost time with the Corps. It is also important to remember that Johnson is really, really good at getting grants, so don't sell him short on all this. I agree about hiring the developer -- and someone who has no property or financial interest anywhere near the Pearl! I've heard others talk about San Antonio's strategy; it merits serious study.
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-08T09:57:57-06:00
ID
154931
Comment
I think we have to be careful in looking to the River Walk in San Antonio for direction. I think it shows the Corps is willing to work with the community as long as the community can pay for the non related flood control measures. The flood control measures for the San Antonio River is a series of dams and flood gates (very simplistic overview). The levee plans is just building new levees, strengthening and raising old ones, and flood gates. The upper part of the Pearl River might have this, but the two plans look different to me. Also, I thought Duany mentioned that dropping the water level in the Reservoir by 3-5 feet would solve our flooding problem. Again, I remember him saying this at the charrette, but I was only at the meeting for 30 minutes. The ability for San Antonio to embark on their $272 million ecosystem restoration project for the lower half of the San Antonio River ($115 million County, $4.5 million City, $141 Corps, $4.8 million Donations) is due to the success of the highly developed portion of the uppper half of the river (River Walk - Downtown & Museum Reach). I don't know if we can develop the Pearl River like the San Antonio River due to environmental wetlands and such. Making levees pretty and used for recreational purposes is a great public amenity, but it will have to be subsidized like other public/community amenities (parks, libraries, ball fields, museums). These are great for the communities, but some entity provides a lot of money to keep them open because they don't generate enough income themselves. If we're looking at the City of Jackson to maintain them, the city is incapable of doing that. Without building a concentrated area of residential or commercial development like they did in San Antonio, I don't think you can build the pedestrian amenities without the increased tax base the new development would bring.
Author
maybob95
Date
2010-01-10T10:50:25-06:00
ID
154933
Comment
It seems clear that the San Antonio Riverwalk finds its local analogue in the Town Creek expansion project, not the Pearl. I think the reason the Riverwalk is coming up is the fact that the Corps worked closely with local interests to build out something that including ecosystem restoration, etc., something that anti-Levee interests claim couldn't happen here. (E.g., that the Levees the Corps will build will be fixed in time to the 1996 Comprehensive Plan, that they'll herbicide small children if they get in the way, etc.) As for the amenities on the leveed Pearl, I'm guessing we're talking about a 5-10 year public effort to negotiate even minimal resources put into greenways, etc., and, yes, those are public amenities. I'd imagine there are opportunities to lease access to the river to canoeing outfits or some other *minimal* money-makers ala a state park. Likewise, there might be corporate sponsorship (how about a BCBS "Let's Go Walking" trail?) and/or state/local/county partnerships. There could be charitable components or naming rights as well -- frankly, I'd hire the folks who are raising money for the Children's Museum. ;-) There are Federal dollars for some of these projects (e.g. Rails to Trails) as well. But, by and large, the greenway is going to a public works project just like parks and museums and airports and lakes and campgrounds and state parks and the Natchez Trace. Athens, GA offers some very nice parallels in terms of turning a river into a transportation corridor and park system. In fact, the similarities include their Nature Center (our Natural Science museum) and their Lake Chapman (our Rez). There's no question it would be run like a park or similar public service. The notion that the city of Jackson couldn't handle it, though, seems a little off the cuff... if well planned, I think it would be a reasonable parks and recs function like anything else -- likewise, a multi-county or city/state partnership might be brought to bear on it as well, given that it would affect multiple counties and connect various state or state-driven entities. http://www.athensgreenway.com/ Without building a concentrated area of residential or commercial development like they did in San Antonio, I don't think you can build the pedestrian amenities without the increased tax base the new development would bring maybob -- is this an argument for Two Lakes? I'm thinking that it sounds like an argument for Town Creek *over* two lakes, because it's a much more "do-able" project for private developers, with the residential and commercial development component much easier to picture.
Author
Todd Stauffer
Date
2010-01-11T10:22:02-06:00
ID
154935
Comment
Someone (not named) is now promoting casinos as part of 25-year plan in Jackson including Two Lakes. That site is quickly becoming the Two Lakes site.
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-11T11:52:32-06:00
ID
154941
Comment
i don't think i could respond better than itodd. i would push you maybob on the use of the word subsidize. One usually thinks of subsidies as those given by governments to private corporations. At the very least, from the definition of the word, it seems to entail two parties. In the case of public amenities, the money for these projects comes from public dollars. There is no transfer from one entity to another. Public funds are invested in public property. It is a transformation of money into capital but not a transfer of money for the capital interests of another.
Author
daniel johnson
Date
2010-01-11T17:02:44-06:00
ID
154943
Comment
thanks Itodd and daniel both for your continued and thoughtful posts on this over the past few years.
Author
Izzy
Date
2010-01-11T17:47:18-06:00
ID
154946
Comment
itodd, if it's an either/or situation which is how it's being portrayed, I'm for Two Lakes. It will increase Jackson's tax base and provide better flood protection. Am I in love with Two Lakes? No. I'd look at any plan that increases our tax base while providing flood control whereas the levees are simply a flood control plan. BTW - I don't understand Sandy Rosenthal's quote in the article about levees paying for themselves. It's true that people like to build their homes near water and their property values are normally higher, but under the current proposal no homes will be built along the levees. It will be green space. I don't think I'm way off in saying the City of Jackson couldn't afford to maintain the levees. If you look at the parks and cemetaries, the city does the best that it can, but the well maintained parks are the ones that the private sector helps maintain or in actuality maintains the parks (Smith Park, Laurel Street Park, Parham Bridges). Second, bike paths have been talked about for several years, and the major sticking point is the city's reluctance in maintaining and policing new bike paths due to a lack of resources. Daniel, I did use a poor choice of words. I was thinking of how some public amenities charge user fees, but the government still provides most/a lot of funding to maintain the amenity. I guess I should have said we have built another public amenity where we would have to raise taxes to maintain or not maintain it and hope a private citizen/company to sponsor the project. It could happen, but again, we will raise taxes to pay for the levees. Then, if we don't find a private sponsor, we will have to raise taxes to maintain any pedestrian friendly amenities, or we cut other services. Look at the recent history, Jackson either cuts services or raise taxes.
Author
maybob95
Date
2010-01-11T18:20:13-06:00
ID
154948
Comment
It will increase Jackson's tax base and provide better flood protection. Sadly, I'm not sure I even buy this part. What are you basing that statement of fact on? I believe it might do either of those -- say, 40 years from now. I think it's an argument whose time has passed, though. The Levee Board is moving ahead with a levee plan. And, to those who are now looking for a private solution, I would posit that you should have done that and started the clock a decade or more ago. Now it just looks like wasting valuable time.
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-11T18:42:54-06:00
ID
154949
Comment
Oh, and this whole casino thinking popping up all of a sudden has me concerned. What is *that* about?
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-11T18:44:55-06:00
ID
154950
Comment
I'm basing my statement on the Corps report that states the LL Plan would be 91% effective as opposed to the Levee Plan's 79% effectiveness. As Sandy Rosenthal stated "People tend to build their homes near water...Rivers and lakes can supply a large municipal water supply, so people gravitate to these areas." The Lakes plan call for economic development which includes commercial and residential development. The new property which would be higher income as Rosenthal noted and would increase our tax base. Again, since the levee plan is the choice on this board, the conservationists need to come up with ways to fund and maintain the levees.
Author
maybob95
Date
2010-01-11T19:22:31-06:00
ID
154953
Comment
I don't think I'm way off in saying the City of Jackson couldn't afford to maintain the levees. If you look at the parks and cemetaries, the city does the best that it can, but the well maintained parks are the ones that the private sector helps maintain or in actuality maintains the parks (Smith Park, Laurel Street Park, Parham Bridges). Presumably it would be the Levee Board's responsibility to maintain the levees, not the City's exclusively. That said, the City is a not fully helpless organism -- it does manage a $360 annual million budget and, protestations to the contrary, things occasionally do get done. (We might try to avoid Melton types in the future so that we don't have four year gaps of rampant irresponsibility ;-) But if you do want to argue that Jackson couldn't afford to mow and police the bike paths, then it seems you'd need to similarly argue that Jackson won't be able to support the infrastructure build-out (water, sewer, roads, etc.) necessary to make the eco-devo on islands and inlets tenable...particularly if a ton of bond money and TIF funding is already tied up just getting the river dredged, the land piled up into islands, the waterworks moved, the landfill folded over, the wetlands mitigated, the riparian forests mitigated... and the lawsuits won or settled.
Author
Todd Stauffer
Date
2010-01-11T19:26:01-06:00
ID
154954
Comment
Is that the current version of Two Lakes? It's changed a lot, you know. And it's not going to be "effective" if it can't get built due to cost and federal environmental regulations. This is the part I can't understand: Why do people think we (or local developers) can do anything we want to do?!? Adam explains above why the 79 percent number is such. Again, since the levee plan is the choice on this board, the conservationists need to come up with ways to fund and maintain the levees. That's sounding a bit snarky. Actually, everyone who cares about this city and flooding needs to give up the unrealistic pipe dreams and work together on the fastest-possible way to deal with flooding. The city is falling apart today because our infrastructure cannot handle cold weather -- and we're supposed to figure out a way to put utilities on islands that aren't built, yet!?! (Or, is the plan for the casinos to do that?) It is truly time to grow up on this issue, with due respect. Any responsible person at this point is going to come to the table and help make levees, and smart development around them, happen as soon as possible. It is truly hard to take seriously any person who argues that Two Lakes is the only answer. So far, about the only people I hear doing that own property either bordering the proposed Two Lakes area or damn close to it. And I understand that this is all a letdown for those folks, but it hasn't happened and for a damn good reason as Andre Duany pointed out: It is not feasible. Also, on this issue, I can't take anonymous proponents seriously because I don't know what dog you have in the hunt, and many people have dogs in the Two Lakes hunt. It would be great if you would identify yourself, MayBob, and let us know if you own property that would be affected.
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-11T19:32:17-06:00
ID
154955
Comment
I will add that Melton was a big Two Lakes proponent because that's what people told him to be. I still have his binder on it that he never cracked; he gave it to me during my interviews with him in 2006. No flood-control plan needs unquestioning supporters. That's how we got to this point.
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-11T19:33:53-06:00
ID
154956
Comment
Maybe the bike paths could be part of the state park system, and users could pay a fee as we do when we use the trails at Mayes Lake.
Author
Izzy
Date
2010-01-11T19:43:13-06:00
ID
154960
Comment
I had to finish Chuck. Where were we? "Presumably it would be the Levee Board's responsibility to maintain the levees, not the City's exclusively." There would be some sort of partnership, but the levee board is funded by the local taxpayers with federal funds. We will be paying more to maintain additional levees and pedestrian friendly amenities either to the levee board or to the City of Jackson. The city isn't a helpless organism, but funding for the nonessentials are always cut first when the city puts together their budget and that means parks/recreation, arts & culture, and social services. We have staved off raising taxes by doing this so that is why I don't have much faith in the City's ability to maintain the levees. On a side note, the city has been renovating the roof of Thalia Mara Hall for over 10 years. Like the JFP pointed out why the Two Lakes plan won't work, I'm just pointing out the obstacles of the levee plan. Again, I'd like to see other development plans presented because the levees won't happen anytime soon. We still have to put together the rest of the funding for the levees, and it will be a tough sell to increase property taxes especially on the Jackson side. Donna, I was snarky, but I was responding to your developers should have come up with a solution 10 years ago comment. No one has to take my comments seriously. I'm just a blogger. Bloggers aren't journalists so people should question our claims or take it with a grain of salt. We have way too many people who think bloggers are journalists and take what they write as truth. My only property is my home in Belhaven. I don't know if that falls into the 21% ineffectiveness of the levees.
Author
maybob95
Date
2010-01-11T21:10:13-06:00
ID
154961
Comment
First, i'm not so sure we are talking about the same Two Lakes plan maybob. The current Two Lakes plan features a myriad of small islands without any utilities or connection to land. The city would have to pay to spruce these up and make them a "feature" which might then spurn development. As for the shoreline, what is not privately owned, would be inbetween I-55 and the Lake and likely not exactly an accessible location for business...unless of course the city ponied up dough to make it accessible. i'm not saying it is not possible...i'm just noting that the current Two Lakes plan leaves little for developers to be excited about. As for the comment about conservationists needing to find funding to manage the levees...this ignores that whichever flood plan was chosen, all Jacksonians would have to find the funding to follow through. i'd also point out that you only seem to recognize monetary value. While a greenway may not attract a casino like a lake can, it can attract corporations with young workforces. It also can provide low-cost to free recreation space for the majority of Jacksonians who cannot afford the luxury retail and private developments which might have been attracted by older Two Lakes plans. It encourages a culture of outdoor activity and fitness. As the capital city in a state known for its outdoors recreation, a developed Greenway/River can establish Jackson as the place to be for young and old professionals looking for nightlife and the great outdoors. ... There were also some interesting conversation at the charrette that bear consideration when you talk about an increased tax base. The mayor of Flowood was there and city planners from Ridgeland (Jackson was conspicuously absent) and there were discussions of how the taxes from any new development on the river would be split to ensure equitable despensation among the surrounding counties...not necessarily Jackson.
Author
daniel johnson
Date
2010-01-11T21:48:42-06:00
ID
154962
Comment
Not awake enough to sound intelligent, yet -- but I will say that one of the most frustrating thing about Two Lakes supporters is that many have no idea what is in the plan, what it would cost (potentially upward of a billion dollars with the environmental mitigation requirements), the eminent-domain components, who owns what land or even where it would be. It almost seems as if some of its staunchest proponents (such as Northside Sun's Wyatt Emmerich) are willfully pushing ignorance on it. Do they not think that people are going to want to know why they weren't told the whole truth at some point!?! As for levees, maybob, we're pointing out the problems and costs in the story above, and will continue to. It is one thing to truthfully point out all the obstacles of the various plans, and quite another to hone in on one's weaknesses and ignore those of the other, which many Two Lakes supporters do. As Mayor Johnson told us last week in an editorial board meeting, they are very good at pointing out the costs of levees but without admitting all the costs and challenges of their plan. And bear in mind, as has been said here repeatedly, Lakes people and politicians demanded that no new levee study be done since 1996, so that is the plan everyone is comparing to. It. should. not. be. Willful ignorance is a very bad thing. So is pushing it. Now, to wake up.
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-12T07:10:35-06:00
ID
154963
Comment
For the record, in case anyone is wondering, daniel Johnson is more than a blogger on this issue. He is one of the most educated people in the city on this issue. He knows the history; he's read and studied the reports. He is an expert on it who believes in greenways, as we do, not just for tree-hugging reasons but for 21st centry style eco-development, not dated ideas that think that reservoirs are the key to attracting professional talent. That was mid-last-century reality at best, and is no longer true. If the city does hire that developer daniel wants, he/she should be educated in current economic-development trends.
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-12T07:16:28-06:00
ID
154964
Comment
i appreciate the props Donna. i have done my best to connect the dots and listen to all sides over the past five years. i think my greatest asset has been in seeking out anyone willing to discuss their thoughts on the flooding issue and listening. i've even seen McGowan's spiel a number of times and read his materials. The biggest part of this story to me has been the immense political power McGowan managed to wield in regards to this project over the past decade. Either McGowan is a very powerful man or he is a front man for a very powerful man. One of the reasons that i am often the face of this discussion is because all of the professionals connected to the river generally work for the State and fear losing their jobs for speaking out. We might could have gotten past this years ago if there had not been someone at the top of every associated state agency directing their employees not to talk on the subject until "all the tests are through".
Author
daniel johnson
Date
2010-01-12T08:51:17-06:00
ID
154966
Comment
Right, daniel, that's what we've found, too. Looking back at the history of Two Lakes/flooding discussions has been almost as confounding as looking at the history of Mr. Melton and Jackson and seeing what people didn't say or report that would have educated people that he would not be a good mayor, among other things.
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-12T10:01:25-06:00
ID
154967
Comment
If it is such a strong idea in theory it would be easy to hear all criticisms. But if the idea has flaws that people are not articulating out of fear of losing their jobs, well, Houston we have a problem here. All the more reason for citizens whose jobs aren't on the line to speak out, ask questions, and most important, look for the best option for the future of Jackson - not an idealized plan but a real plan with facts, figures. A plan that fits with new trends on business development, creative class cities, renewable resources, and good living.
Author
Izzy
Date
2010-01-12T10:07:27-06:00
ID
154968
Comment
Daniel's vision of outdoor recreational spaces intertwined in our metropolitan area certainly seems to be more forward thinking than simply proposing more development. Certainly vibrant green spaces would be a selling point to attracting new young talent, but it goes beyond that. The appeal crosses all ages and income brackets. My personal testimonial(that of a not very outdoorsy person) is that I have enjoyed playing in the existing areas around Mayes Lake and the Pearl my entire adult life. First as a young professional, exploring with my now husband. Then as a young parent, exploring with small children when they weren't up to a big, far away trip. Now that my kids are almost all teens/preteens we still love going "exploring" on a pretty afternoon. My husband gets great dad/son time putting his kayak in the river. He even takes the whole clan camping at Mayes Lake (I personally draw the line at sleeping outside)where the kids have taken amazing pictures of a really big alligator swimming along. It is so great because it feels like being in the middle of nowhere, but you can go on the spur of the moment if the weather just seems to demand a camp-out. While dreaming about that incredible get away is fun, the ability to get away any day of the week for an hour or two for little or no money has much more impact on daily life. Though we have enjoyed the area without enhancements, it seems that the enhancements envisioned by Daniel are the sort that would ultimately bring about positive economic impact by making Jackson an attractive place to live and work, with the resultant spin-off growth.
Author
ksb
Date
2010-01-12T10:10:49-06:00
ID
154969
Comment
Baquan: That's what prompted all this fuss. We're 30 years down the road and still not sure of a solution. Fortunately the situation that created that flood is rare.
Author
Ironghost
Date
2010-01-12T10:20:29-06:00
ID
154970
Comment
I love Mayes Lake, too, and am amazed how close it is to the city. I was shocked that some of the Lakes Plans proposed altering what to me is one of the best gems in the city. I like the idea of building on the strength of an existing treasure. Mississippi's health issues also seem to suggest that a focus on walking, biking, and kayaking are going to help us more than a bunch of gas-guzzling motorboats and jet skis.
Author
Izzy
Date
2010-01-12T10:56:43-06:00
ID
154971
Comment
If it is such a strong idea in theory it would be easy to hear all criticisms. That's exactly it, Izzy. A plan of this magnitude has to be aired out from every angle, not just from a PR-selling standpoint. And the supporters of one plan must not be allowed to control the media or try to kill the messenger. That's why I say that people whose biggest concern is flooding and the overall good will come to the table looking for consensus on the quickest route to prevent a flooding crisis. And it is fine to have self-interest in a plan like Two Lakes, but those should be out front. Admit your bias and then make your argument. Acknowledge the very real problems instead of saying they don't exist and blasting the messenger for bringing them up (more memories of how people treated us when we kept warning about Melton). Once all the challenges are on the table then we can find the best solution for all. That is what should have happened back in the 1990s, but apparently dissent to Two Lakes was squashed at every time. That can't happen anymore. And don't forget: Its supporters are trying to resurrect it now. Both the Corps and the Levee Board have soundly rejected it.
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-12T11:00:20-06:00
ID
154972
Comment
Agreed, Izzy and ksb. In large part, what we have is a generational problem here (although I reside on your side, not the older one where too many my age are). And anyone serious about economic development and attraction/retention of professionals really should pay attention to y'all, not to mention all the research out there.
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-12T11:01:45-06:00
ID
154974
Comment
Does anyone remember the plan during Ditto's tenure, along with a huge rendering in the paper, of a "floating casino" on the Pearl near hwy 80?
Author
ksb
Date
2010-01-12T12:00:40-06:00
ID
154979
Comment
I remember people talking about it. Tell me this isn't what they're trying to maneuver.
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-12T12:40:40-06:00
ID
154980
Comment
Has the casino concept actually come back life other than some passing recollection?
Author
ksb
Date
2010-01-12T12:54:43-06:00
ID
154981
Comment
ksb: I recall that one. I think the Legislature shot it down when they allowed Riverboat gaming. Same reason there's never been one on the Rez.
Author
Ironghost
Date
2010-01-12T13:12:47-06:00
ID
155240
Comment
BTW, doing research tonight, I found this long story about Two Lakes that I had never seen in the New Orleans Time-Picayune. Let's just say that it's not as glowing and trusting as the stories around here about the proposal in The Clarion-Ledger, Northside Sun and Mississippi Business Journal. Take a read.
Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-01-19T00:20:41-06:00

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